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Aging: Sher..errie, Sherrie Baby! Sher..errie..

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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot

Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3499
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 4:39 am    Post subject: Aging: Sher..errie, Sherrie Baby! Sher..errie.. Reply with quote

Aging: Sher..errie, Sherrie Baby! Sher..errie..

If you recognize the above, you know my age, and perhaps you too listened to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. His hit, and this subject has to do with the use of Sherrie, er, sherry barrel aging or finishing.

Now let it be known that the use of sherry barrels for aging is really quite old and traditional. Spanish sherry was shipped all over the world, and inventive humans naturally looked for and found a use for the shipping barrels which was simply, to store other products, wines, beers and spirits. The long and motion filled voyages later also made clear the value of aging - in any good barrel (but particularly oak). Rough spirits were smoothed and new and tasty aromas and tastes were created.

Up spirits!

But I digress. Although cheap sherry has often been surreptitiously added to the product "rum" (to add unlabeled flavoring), the use of sherry barrels was/is rare. Why, you ask? Or should ask...

This is because (a) laws that require that bourbon be aged ONLY in new oak barrels created a huge supply of first use bourbon barrels, and (b) sherry barrels from Spain (sometimes used to age sherry for 20 years or more) are hard to come by, highly valued and expensive in comparison.

And nobody will accuse Bacardi of spending extra money.

But there are exceptions. The amazing Richard Seale decided to finish his terrific Doorly's XO in sherry barrels; further, he continues to experiment with other woods in his quest to provide creatively new but honest rums. Our next experience was rather recent when I finally found a bottle of Dos Maderas ("two woods") 5+3 Aged Rum which goes beyond simply finishing and ages their blend first for 5 years in oak, then for an additional 3 years (5 years for their "PX" product) in extremely rare Jerez sherry barrels used to store 20 year old fine sherry.

The results in both cases are noteworthy. You must buy one or both of these for your basic reference selection. Sherry aging can be magnificent.

This practice is not limited to rum. A number of very fine, expensive single malt whiskies, eg. Balvenie Doublewood and Abelour 12 Year, use a dual aging. While the Doublewood garners widespread high praise, and is quite lovely, the Abelour demonstrates that sherry aging can be overdone.

How so?

In the case of the Abelour, the sherry aging mellows the single malt to such an extent that the product begins to lose its identity and sense of place. So much so that you might even mistake the Abelour 12 Year for a rum! Is that bad? Well, yes. The superiority of noble single malts to rogue rum is largely due to product rum's lack of general purity, compared to the recognizable characteristics of fine single malts.

However in the case of rum, Doorly's and Dos Maderas 5+3 would suggest that unlike the single malts, sherry aging is more compatible and really enhances the pure rum profile. Sadly, many distillers cheat and use cheap sherry wine, which amounts to an unlabeled alteration of the product.

In any case, I beg you to buy these superior and honestly produced rums...

Go to Save Caribbean Rum Petition!
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 11:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree - cask / barrel type is used in whisky industry to introduce new flavours to the spirit. Port, Madeira, Marsala, Red wine, White wine - all cask types have been used.

The results are sometimes better, sometimes worse, but in my opinion, this is an honest way to get new flavours into spirit: Particularly since it is openly told about.

An interesting dilemma is now born in Scotch whisky circles: Traditionally used large sherry butts (500 litre casks) are darn expensive, and rare, because hardly anyone drinks sweet sherry. Also the spanish laws were changed in the in the past to state that all sherry must be bottled in Spain, meaning that the casks would then have to be shipped to UK empty, or in broken up staves.

This increases the possibility of bacterial contamination of the cask's insides, causing a bad taste. The spaniards combat this by "desinfecting" the casks by burning a sulphur candle inside - not so good for the whisky, as this can depart a significant sulphurous taste.

As is, many in the whisky industry would be ever so happy to max their profits by simply getting rid of sherry casks all together. But how to do this, when many consumers adore the sherried whisky taste?

Macallan tried - they came up with "Fine oak" series, now pretty much history - i.e. people want sherried Macallan.

In any case, if one reads the latest Malt Whisky Yearbook, this dilemma is evident in the article that deals with casks etc. Highly recommended, and please - read between the obvious (lines). We may be in for big changes in whisky taste in the not-so-far-way future...
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